Katie Couric is facing a $12 million defamation lawsuit for her recent documentary, “Under the Gun.” The suit was filed by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) Daniel Hawes, and Patricia Webb. Other defendants named in the suit are film’s director Stephanie Soechtig, Atlas Films, and Epix, the movie distribution company.
The plaintiffs contend that the film was manipulated to make them look bad.
At one point the Couric asks VCDL members Daniel Hawes and Patricia Webb, “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?” During the actual interview Hawes and Webb answered the question, but in the film that question was followed by nine seconds of silence.”Under the Gun” portrays VCDL members Daniel Hawes and Patricia Webb in about nine seconds of silence in response to Couric’s question, but they actually provided an answer.
“The manipulated footage falsely informed viewers that the VCDL members had been stumped and had no basis for their position on background checks,” states the complaint filed in Virginia federal court.
VCDL President Philip Van Cleave recorded the entire interview so after the film was released,Van Cleave released his raw audio of the interview between Couric and the two VCDL members. The audio proved the movie was indeed deceptively edited. After the release of the audio the diminutive Couric apologized for the misleading editing and posted the following on the movie’s website:
As Executive Producer of “Under the Gun,” a documentary film that explores the epidemic of gun violence, I take responsibility for a decision that misrepresented an exchange I had with members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL). My question to the VCDL regarding the ability of convicted felons and those on the terror watch list to legally obtain a gun, was followed by an extended pause, making the participants appear to be speechless.
When I screened an early version of the film with the director, Stephanie Soechtig, I questioned her and the editor about the pause and was told that a “beat” was added for, as she described it, “dramatic effect,” to give the audience a moment to consider the question. When VCDL members recently pointed out that they had in fact immediately answered this question, I went back and reviewed it and agree that those eight seconds do not accurately represent their response.
Director Soechtig stood by her “artistic license,’ which in this case meant deceiving the people who watched the documentary. A spokesman for her Soechtig said in a statement:
It’s ironic that people who so passionately defend the Second Amendment want to trample the rights guaranteed to a filmmaker under the First. Stephanie stands by ‘Under the Gun,’ and will not stop her work on behalf of victims of gun violence.”
The First Amendment doesn’t protect slander. But it does give directors room for some artistic license, Then there is the question of whether adding eight seconds of silence is defamatory.
On the other hand, by representing the film as a documentary Couric and Soechtig told the audience the movie represented the truth, but what they presented wasn’t the truth. The film was manipulated to present Daniel Hawes, Patricia Webb, and all gun owners in general “as objects of ridicule by falsely representing that, as experts in their respective pro-Second Amendment trades, they had no basis for their opposition to universal background checks.”
I hope they get every penny plus a sizable bonus.